Thursday, July 19, 2007

In memory of William H. Poteat

"Eroticism Music and Madness"

Course Sylabus

I. "Eroticism, Music and Madness"

As principle, as power, as self-contained system, sensuousness is first posited in Christianity; and in that sense it is true that Christianity brought [the] sensuous into the world.

1. Arche' as Cosmos, logos, psyche.

2. Arche' as davar.

3. The ordinacy of Cosmos arche' --

4. The different ordinacy of davar arche'

a. Logos is being, is reality, is divine. (Reality does "hide" itself, must be sought behind "appearances".)

b. The relation of "appearances" to logos. Being and nothingness relation.

c. Yet: Being is finite and fully knowable.

d. Davar is not reality, is not being, is not divine.

e. The paradigmatic act -- speech

1). Speech and speaker: former manifests latter, but not fully.

2). Act and actor: former manifests latter, but not exhaustively.

3). The person cannot be known exhaustively -- by another, by himself.

4). The Person is fully disclosed only to God.

5. What is the ordinacy of the Davar arche'?

a. Keeping promises -- God's model.

b. Is retaining one's identity

1). Cf. Israel vs. Yahweh: "I will be as I will be" -- "absolute relation to the absolute, relative relation to the relative."

2). Edward Chamberlain, Bendrix.

II. So -- whether you have the ordinacy of a finite Cosmos, or that of a providential divine will -- faithful Yahweh -- as alternative principles, you still do not have "restlessness and tumult, infinity."

A. How then does Xianity posit that spiritually (pneumatically) qualified sensuousness expressed in the musical Don Giovanni in Mozart's opera?

B. Xianity destroyed the finite, harmonious and fully intelligible cosmos of Grk. thought by substituting davar (the speaking and heard word) for logos (the word as written and read).

C. This made the relation between medium and its content more equivocal and contingent.

1. Reality does not hide behind appearances -- logos behind aesheta.

2. Reality is equivocally manifest as a person is always equivocally manifest in his speech.

3. Reality of man is contingently manifest inasmuch as he cannot fully indwell his own speech.

D. But the medium of speech becomes radically distinct from all cyclical and organismic forms of ordinacy; and becomes paradigmatic medium to reality.

E. Let us remember:

1. Language has its element in time.

2. It passes away in time in an essential sense.

a. Because of verbs with 3 tenses

b. Reflexive first personal pronouns -- thereby making a constant reference to the world as radically experienced by each of us in our bodies.

3. That inasmuch as speech has its element in time:

a. The sensuous element is negatived

b. Therefore: as a medium, speech frees us from ordinate nature, thereby giving us spirit --while restoring ordinacy at a higher level. (We "hear" the meaning not the "sounds")

F. Yet -- the very equivocalness and contingency of the relation between this medium and its content has two consequences:

1. Emphasizes the importance of fidelity to the spoken word -- the promise -- with Yahweh as model. Our words are forever in danger of becoming "musical".

2. Thereby suggests an antithesis to itself.

3. The loss of identity in passion finds a perfect expression in another medium which has its element in time, viz., music.

a. Sensuousness is pneumaticized, i.e., freed from ordinate nature, by music because it hurries in a perpetual vanishing and has no reflexivity.

b. We hear the "restlessness, tumult and infinity," not the sounds.

c. Eroticism thus becomes a power in itself.

d. It is inordinate, discarnate, spiritual, infinite, erotic longing.

e. Cf. E/O. p. 88 -- "The Middle Ages..."

f. Don Giovanni is "pure, discarnate erotic spirit..."

4. With neither the ordinacy of finite cosmos nor that of an unfailingly faithful will, the world is neither eternal (as a Cosmos) nor contingent (as a creature which might have not been) and becomes "contingent" in the sense that it is underivable, as a meaningless surd.

5. Pascal's Pensee's: Fragments 72, 205, 427.

6. If psyche (Cosmos) is no longer the locus of numinal power; and, if pneuma no longer corresponds to the Yahwist speech, then psyche (Cosmos) becomes heimarmene, the insensate prison of an alien and restless power in quest of a 'hidden' divinity.

Now -- both the ancient Cosmos metaphor and the Yahwist metaphor gave alternative accounts of the background of order and meaning in the world; they both saw this background as "holy"; and in different ways commensurate with human existence.

When both of these metaphors are fragmented -- we are left with an impersonal cosmos and a homeless voice whose questions evoke no (Yahwist) answers.

Note: F. 3. e. E/O is Soren Kierkeegard's "Either/Or"


  1. Hello John,

    This posting is a delightful reminder of Poteat's graduate seminar on Kierkegaard I had in the mid 60s at Duke. Did you perhaps take this course at Stanford?

    Some of us, including many of William H. Poteat's former students, are putting together a conference at Yale University next June 6, 7, and 8, to honor the intellectual legacy of Poteat. You would be welcome to find out more and, of course, to attend. Please write me at .

    Dale Cannon
    Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies Emeritus
    Western Oregon University
    Monmouth, OR

    1. Professor Cannon,

      I took this course at UT, Austin along with about 15 others. How could one not be attracted by the title "Eroticism, Music, and Madness." Then as now, only more so, the words encapsulated the spirit of the times. Hardly a week goes by that I don't think about the ideas broached in his class.

      While I couldn't appreciate your kind words and invitation more I will have to decline traveling to Yale. If you happen in the course of your planning to set up a web page for the event or some such please let me know.

      Poteat had a profound impact on his students. The man was an adept, an exquisite expositor matched in my experience only by the then department head, Dr. Irwin Lieb, and by my other favorite, and as it turned out lifelong mentor, Professor G.V. Desani.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I wish you the best of luck with the conference.